Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Weird Thing About Grief

I happened across the following this morning when I logged onto my computer. The link was posted on a news site, a short article about how actor Liam Neeson is faring two years after the death of his wife Natasha Richardson in a skiing accident.

“But that's the weird thing about grief," he says. "You can't prepare for it. You think you're gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work… It hits you in the middle of the night -- well, it hits me in the middle of the night… I'm out walking. I'm feeling quite content. And it's like suddenly, boom. It's like you've just done that in your chest."

When I read that, I thought “Yes! That’s exactly the way it feels!” The “boom” to which Neeson refers is, I assume, that thump! – the physical sensation you have when you’re suddenly struck with some revelation or memory you thought you’d tucked neatly and permanently away.

I’ve experienced my share of loss over the years, starting with the death of my grandfather in 1955. My parents had just left for a trip to Europe and I was to stay with my grandparents. In the middle of the night of my parents’ departure I woke up, aware that something was wrong: there were hushed voices, other people in the house. And the next morning, when I went into my grandmother’s tiny kitchen, where she was dutifully making breakfast, I knew, without being told, that Grandpop was gone.

Years later my grandmother died and I flew home from California for the funeral.

In January of 1995 my then-partner Robert succumbed to complications due to AIDS. Following his wishes, I threw a party in his memory, catered, butlered, the works. At the end the guests released dozens of white balloons into the blue sky over Hollywood.

In July of 2005 my mother died just shy of her 96th birthday. A day or two afterward, I was staying overnight to look after my father and went to bed in my mother’s room. And I swear, as I dropped off to sleep, someone sat on the edge of the bed and tucked me in.

In November of 2009 my father died after moving out of his house and a series of health crises. Chris and I were with him, holding his hands as he took his last breath. I think it might have been a sigh of relief.

And in between there have been more distant family members, friends, people I had lost track of and tried to find over the years, only to learn finally that many of them were gone, most too young.

I attended the funerals, I arranged for Robert’s memorial in Los Angeles, I settled my father’s estate and sold his house. I know they’re gone. I know it. And I was told early on that there is no one, proper way to grieve, no generally accepted time frame, after which you should be “over it” and ready to get on with life. It’s different for everyone and it takes time. That’s what I was told.

For a while after each of these losses it was more acute, once I had gotten over the shock, done what needed to be done – then I was able to sort of fall apart. And for months after I would have spells of the most profound sadness (not depression) and wouldn’t be able to think why, until I remembered…

But I just wasn’t prepared for how long the little aftershocks would continue. To this day, when something good happens, or when I’ve had a particularly good experience, I will often start to think “That was great, I should call Mom—“ or “Dad would get a kick out of this, I’ll tell him—“ Then I think, “Oh, yeah.” And I smile a little and marvel at the tricks your mind can play when you’re not really paying attention. I suppose at this point it’s not grief anymore, per se. It’s a kind of wistfulness that washes over you, like an odd, warm shiver, and then passes.

I suppose, too, that mixed in with the sadness at the loss, there’s a little sadness at the passing of time, the reminder of one’s own mortality. Especially with parents: they say you’re not really an adult until both your parents are dead.

Funny. Both my parents are gone and there are still days when I feel like a clueless kid. But I like to believe they’re with me, guiding me. (Chris swears my current job is the result of my father’s intervention.)

And so, apart from having been on some movie sets at one time or another, I have this in common with Liam Neeson. 

Life is funny. Grief is weird.

1 comment:

  1. Very touching. I lost my 3 year old brother when I was only 6. My mother died at age 52 when I was in my twenties. I enjoyed this essay very much. Yours, Bratprince